Riding 100 miles with Bertha

Ok I know, I know, the 25,000 cyclists that rode out of the Olympic Park, London on Sunday August 10th didn’t actually ride 100 miles. But honestly it wasn’t our choice – and it turns out that it wasn’t the road or weather conditions that caused the organisers to cut the ride to 86 miles and miss out the 2 big hills of the day (Box Hill and Leith Hill). A major accident had happended in the area overnight and the accident investigation team hadn’t finished their work. Now I’m not saying there weren’t a few sighs of relief when we got to the start line and heard the news, I’m just saying it wasn’t our choice…….

So now that’s out of the way, back to the beginning………

The Prudential Ride 100 London-Surrey event (http://www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk./) was one of my big targets this year. Having been drawn from the ballot, I worked towards race day with some focus, which included London to Paris, and arrived at the start line knowing that my first ever Century ride was very achieveable – I’d get it done, but not at a quick pace.

Fun times at the Expo with the Sky-boys and my 'Boris Bike'. I kept up with them !
Fun times at the Expo with the Sky-boys and my ‘Boris Bike’. I kept up with them !

Everyone else at the various starting points around the Olympic park knew that we were in for a wet and windy ride and there was a nervous energy and lots of weather experts predicting the time of the first rain using their iphones / Smart phones. The promise of Hurricane Bertha’s tail sweeping through the South of England on Sunday had been the hot topic of debate and concern during the week before, as did the volume of cycling gear to be worn, carried and subsequently disguarded. It was going to be warm, wet and windy ! Well that was super helpful.

After a very quite 5am car ride to one of the ‘drop off points’ and a few very private prayers for the rain to stay away, I set off on my bike to my designated start – black zone, wave k! It was the biggest event I have ever taken part in and I can understand now why the organisers had said ‘no switching of zone / waves’ and kept repeating the instructions about road closures. If you wanted to ride with your buddies, you could meet them down the road – by mile 7, all the zones would merge together anyway.

Not a bad start line for 24,999 cyclists and me ?
Not a bad start line for 24,999 cyclists and me ?

7.37am was my start time and alongside about 30 others in my wave we headed off onto the A12. Now before anyone panics and say ‘Wwwwhhhhaaaatttttt…. the A12?’ and if you didn’t know, one of the big draws for this ride is that the entire course is on a closed, entirely car / vehicle free ! All 100 miles of it, how cool is that ! It was pretty amazing actually to not have to worry about vehicles.

I’m going to spare you a mile by mile description of the ride with a detailed blow by blow account of the weather – in short, it was long, it was wet, the sun came out but it was windy but I don’t think I met anyone who was really miserable. We were all in it together, there was no point being grumpy, just keep pedalling. I honestly had fun out there

There were a couple of moments though that sum up the day for me, so let me share these :

The first was on the hill leading to the 2nd aid stop at around 2/3rd of the way round, Newlands corner I believe. It was a bit chaotic, with some people walking, others swerving all over the road to keep moving and others flying up the hill so my focus was staying upright and moving. Suddenly behind me there was a series of yells, gasps and the sound of clashing bikes. I think if I had turned around at this point I may have seen the result of a domino effect of falling bikes – no-one was hurt thankfully, just a few egos !

The second was at the top of that same hill. On a clear day, you would look out over a wonderful vista of the green and hilly North Downs and Surrey countryside. On this particular day, you cold see nothing other they rain, grey fog !

And the third was the final part of the ride. The turn into the Mall, under Marble Arch was pretty special. It was made all the more special by the fact that the sun was out by this point ! The sun was shining on golden statue in front of Buckingham Palace, the crowds were cherring and my medal awaited me. A few tears, a safe dismount and a smiling volunteer putting a heafty medal around my neck later and I was about to take my phone from it’s waterproof carrier (a ziplock bag !) and take a selfie, when a wall of hail came over Buckingham palace and towards us. It was one of those moments when everyone stood and pointed, ‘look at that !’. Then within about 20 seconds we were soaked again and chilly and honestly, I was over it by then. No photo at the finish tline, it was time to get changed and ‘get the hell out of Dodge’.

Sunshine for the last 2 hours...... until Buckingham Palace !
Sunshine for the last 2 hours…… until Buckingham Palace !

Thunder rumbled on as I changed in the changing tent but by the time I was ready to leave, the sun was back out and my mind went to getting home. I hadn’t really thought that part of the day through too much. All I knew was that I needed to get to Kings Cross station for a short train ride home. I had absolutely no idea how to get from Buckingham Palace to Kings Cross other than on the underground and that was a no-go with my bike. I contemplated a black cab and hang the expense but no, I found a policeman ! He looked about 12 years old and I wondered if he was actrually a street artist / statue as he was standing very still on a plinth in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. Perhaps he was, but instead of the normal ‘scaring a tourist half to death for a small fee’ prank, he took pity on me and got out his iphone and google-mapped it for me !

The rest of the journey home passed by with little incident, except for the car picking me up from the station braking down (what’s an extra mile of riding after 90 ?)

Anyway, that’s my memories of my first ‘century’ ride…… there’s a big part of me that was disappointed not to get the full mileage under my wheels that day but given the circumstances, I’ll take the medal and wear it with pride. Those who faced down Bertha on 2 wheels that day will alwys have a story to tell.

Worn all the way home with pride
Worn all the way home with pride

On a different note, the race was made all the more special by the incredible marshalls and crowds who braved the conditions – they were stuck in one spot for hours at a time and they deserve medals of their own. Thank you, each and every one of you.

As for next year ? The ballot for 2015 has already opened and I am one of the 100,000 who have thrown their cycing helmet into the ring, of course ! What else is there to do on a summer’s day in August 2015 🙂

Speak soon, I promise


Age Group girl

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